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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  March 16, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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on the broadcast tonight, disaster in japan day six. on the nuclear crisis, the americans now say the radiation is much more dangerous than the japanese are letting on. while the heroic effort continues to stop a meltdown and recover from a quake and a tsunami, the fears over radiation continue. our coverage begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television a special good evening to our viewers in the west tonight. tonight in the midst of a
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massive humanitarian crisis in japan, for much of the day there was a disagreement between the americans and the japanese over how dangerous the nuclear crisis is and exactly how much radiation is being released into the environment. here's the very latest tonight on the japan disaster. the humanitarian crisis continues. over 4100 confirmed dead. there are 12,000 unaccounted for. 100 countries are now offering aid to japan. tens of thousands of people have been scanned for radiation. american citizens within 50 miles of the bad reactors have been told to evacuate or stay inside their homes after the most recent spike in radiation was measured in the air. and there are new concerns tonight about two possible breaches in the containment vessel. nbc's lester holt begins our coverage of all of it. he's in tokyo tonight. lester, good evening. >> reporter: brian, good evening.
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the failures are taking place up on fukushima on so many levels it's impossible to predict where all this is going. the latest crisis within a crisis involves spent nuclear fuel at reactor number 4 which according to one report may be laying in a dry cooling pool allowing it to heat up. that according to some experts if it is in fact taking place could lead to a fire and melting of the material and the release of more radioactivity. >> we do not know if it's caused by the flame or if it's a hydrogen explosion. >> reporter: fear and confusion across japan today as smoke and steam continue to billow from the stricken nuclear plant. these new satellite photos give us the clearest view yet of the destruction to the site. there are concerns tonight about a possible breach in the containment vessel at reactor 3. a confirmed breach in reactor 2 is already leaking radiation. and there are new fears that the all-important water cooling the still highly radioactive spent fuel rods at reactor 4 is
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dangerously low. workers were temporarily evacuated during the night and a water drop by helicopter was aborted after radiation levels briefly surged. tonight officials say they will be running a new power line to the plant that could restore power to the crippled cooling system, potentially a big step forward. but the public no longer knows what to believe. 77-year-old emperor akihito made a rare tv address. [ speaking foreign language ] i am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is so unpredictable, he said. these enormous lines in sendai are people waiting for one bus out of town. near the plant, getting checked for radiation levels now the norm. >> people are worried because we don't really understand radioactivity. you have to give faith in the scientists that study this kind of thing. >> reporter: our team too was scanned by an nbc news consultant after our drive down from sendai.
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thankfully, we were fine. our shoe bottoms, however -- >> is that a good thing or bad thing? >> that's a bad thing. >> reporter: contain slightly elevated amounts of radiation, but of no danger to us. in tokyo we found stores running out of everything, a sign of growing anxieties. >> nothing. no water, no food, so i'm going back to my hometown. >> reporter: other parts of this normally bustling city looked like a ghost town. fear and a shortage of gas are keeping people off the streets. back in the disaster zone, snow and cold today hampering rescue efforts, but hope has not been abandoned. >> if you can hear me, make a noise. >> reporter: u.k. rescue teams search a home after family members believe they hear a voice. >> the chance of survival are small but we'll do our best to see if we can get anybody in there. >> reporter: after dogs and teams go in, only a body comes out. as time goes by, chances only
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grow dimmer, as the effects of this earthquake, tsunami and now growing nuclear crisis continue. officials at the nuclear complex using everything in their toolbox, brian, including using water cannons now. it may be the plan to try to inject water in that number 4 reactor. >> lester holt heading up our coverage out of tokyo tonight. lester, thank you. about this apparent disagreement between the u.s. and the japanese, let's look at what the head of the u.s. nuclear regulatory commission said today to congress about one of those fukushima reactors. >> we believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent fuel pool. and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high. >> in other words, the americans saying that it's worse than japanese officials have let on.
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all of this leads us to a chief environmental affairs correspondent, anne thompson. anne, we thought something was up when the americans wanted their people further away from it than the japanese standard earlier today. what's behind this apparent disagreement? >> reporter: well, brian, it's a crisis in the confidence of the information they are getting from the japanese government. in fact tonight tokyo electric power company is denying that that spent fuel pool is indeed dry. it says that everything is stable at reactor 4. and you have the head of public affairs for the nrc, the nuclear regulatory commission, who's trying to walk back some of mr. jaczco's comments today saying they understand the japanese are denying that there is a problem at reactor 4. they're trying to run that to ground. but what he's saying is they are erring on the side of caution. they're trying to be very conservative because this is a very serious situation. brian.
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>> anne thompson in our london bureau tonight. anne, thanks. we have more now on the humanitarian crisis. since friday's earthquake and tsunami, with more than 4,000 dead now and thousands more missing, hope is dimming that additional survivors can be found. and the search for them has become more difficult, because the weather in northern japan has deteriorated. as you'll see, there have been freak snowstorms in small towns, like miyako, japan, where angus walker, of our british partner, itn, meets some of the people there trying to help. >> reporter: miyako, a fishing port where the harbor offered no sanctuary. a ferry is now marooned in the middle of town. you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a war zone. instead it's a place where soldiers are battling to find victims of nature's forces. more than a thousand are missing.
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it took the japanese army three days to get to miyako. they're still here, still searching for bodies, and the weather conditions are getting worse. this town can only be reached by mountainous roads. >> reporter: the sergeant tells me they have pulled ten people out alive since monday. if they only find one more, it will all still be worth it. this was the moment the tsunami smashed through miyako's defenses. a boat is slammed into a bridge. the waters have receded, exposing the destruction in their wake. now, you get a real sense of the terrifying scale of this disaster. so much water poured over the sea wall, that it hit the bottom of the bridge, which must be around 30 feet above me. these are the lists of the living. more than 5,000 in emergency
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shelters. and this woman is one of japan's countless good samaritans. she's come here hoping to find people she doesn't know on behalf of people she's never met. >> it is just horrible. i want to think it is nightmare what happened in my hometown, but i can't say anything. >> reporter: and all along japan's northeastern coast, the nightmare never seems to end. angus walker for nbc news, miyako. >> unbelievable scenes there. and now we return to that fukushima nuclear plant, which has been operating since 1971. but in the wake of this disaster, we're beginning to hear that years, even decades earlier, there were grave concerns about the design of the reactors. and there are 23 similar models here in the u.s. our report tonight from our nbc news senior investigative correspondent, lisa myers.
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>> reporter: all the nuclear reactors and trouble in japan are the same design, known as the mark i, marketed by general electric in the '60s as less expensive and easier to build. ge is part owner of nbc universal. >> this is the reactor vessel. >> reporter: the design is all too familiar to dale bridenbaugh. 35 years ago he was a ge engineer involved with the mark i until he suddenly quit in 1976, writing that he was alarmed by what he saw. >> i was concerned that there would be a major accident at one of the mark is. that the containment would be destroyed. >> reporter: the containment vessel is the reactor's last line of defense in the event of an accident, to keep radiation from escaping. there is growing concern that at least one of the containment vessels in japan may have ruptured. u.s. regulators in the '70s and '80s also expressed concerns about whether the mark i's containment was strong enough.
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ge said since those concerns most mark i reactors have been upgraded, which experts agree improved safety. ge also says these plants have a proven track record of performing reliably and safely for more than 40 years. based on what is now known, experts say the biggest problem in japan wasn't the reactor design itself but that the tsunami knocked out all power, including backup systems. still, critics maintain that this reactor design remains less able to cope than more recent models, when things go terribly wrong. >> the mark is are more vulnerable to getting into severe, unexpected situations such as we've seen at fukushima. >> reporter: questions are also being raised about the japanese government and nuclear industry's record. in 2002 tokyo electric power, which owns the fukushima reactors, admitted falsifying safety records at a number of
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nuclear plants. >> it does raise concerns that perhaps japan doesn't have as high a safety culture as it should have. >> reporter: japan's anti-nuclear activists told us today, they warned of a disaster like this. >> we have been saying that much larger earthquakes could occur than the government has taken into account. >> reporter: these activists contend the japanese nuclear plants were underdesigned to save money. brian, we were unable to get a response today from tokyo electric power, but the company has said that it adheres to the highest safety standards. >> lisa myers in our d.c. newsroom tonight. lisa, thanks. when we come back, a run on anti-radiation pills in this country due to fears about radiation. but despite doctors' better advice. and what it's like to get out of the radiation zone in japan, when "nightly news" continues on a wednesday night. move our families forward. move us all to a better place. and caltrate moves us.
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talked about last night. the concerns, especially along the west coast, that prevailing winds over the pacific will somehow bring radiation from japan to the united states. by the way, the winds did shift to the east today. not over the -- now over the ocean and not back over japan. the epa is moving additional air monitors to alaska, hawaii and guam. the air in california, for example, gets tested every day. scientists and meteorologists say any trace radiation would be completely diffused as it comes across the pacific at high altitudes and will pose no danger. that hasn't stopped a run on iodine pills in stores and on ebay where we found a few active auctions at exorbitant prices for them today. while the surgeon general yesterday said americans should have the pills as a precaution, she later adjusted those remarks. consumers are warned not to take the pills unless exposed to radiation. a warning echoed by our chief medical editor, dr. nancy
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snyderman. >> in fact the surgeon general sent me a text message that said i never intended to imply people go out and buy pills. she was referring to pills like these that people are taking to block the thyroid from taking up radioactive iodine. the problem is there's really no cause for that, no concern for americans at this time, no reason to take these pills. >> the warning repeated by our chief medical editor, dr. nancy snyderman. on wall street today, markets were rattled by the nuclear crisis in japan and the dollar fell to its lowest level against the yen in 16 years. that, in turn, triggered a stock selloff. the dow was down 242 points. worst day, by the way, on wall street since august. we are back in a moment with some of the day's other news, including another unstable situation in another part of the world, the persian gulf. i can't get rid of these weeds, or these nasal allergies.
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editors at the paper say they last heard from their missing colleagues on tuesday morning and that the libyan government has told them it is working to locate them. and as we've been reporting, as the world's attention has been focused on the japan disaster, some of the arab nations are heating up again. while gadhafi has been gobbling up territory, taking it back from the rebels, bearing down on their headquarter city of benghazi, in bahrain, the protesters are rising up again. that government is so concerned they asked the saudis to send troops. nbc's john ray is in bahrain with more on the crackdown. >> reporter: the protesters' tents burn, all hope for peaceful change disappearing in thick plumes of smoke. the government regained control, cleansing it says the capital of criminals and saboteurs. nobody knows how many have been killed or injured today but the protesters have been thrown out of the square. as military helicopters hovered menacingly overhead, we came across people sheltering in a
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side street, showing us the tear gas canisters and rubber bullets they endured. security forces blocked off the city's main hospital. at another clinic, we met a young woman shot in the shoulder and in the hand. the protests have pitched the majority against the kingdom's sunni muslim rulers. they have instituted martial law and called in military reinforcements from saudi arabia. a move condemned today by their ally, the united states, and by iran, their rival power in the gulf. john ray, nbc news, bahrain. and meanwhile, traveling in the middle east, visiting brand new governments there, secretary of state hillary clinton talked about the escalating situation in bahrain today and also made a surprise visit to the scene of the extraordinary uprising we witnessed in egypt. our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell, is traveling with secretary clinton. >> hi, nice to see you. >> thank you.
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>> thank you. >> reporter: it was a rare escape from formal diplomacy. hillary clinton's walk-about in tahrir square, in the place where egypt's revolution started, she found inspiration. >> it's just a great reminder of the power of the human spirit and the universal desire for freedom and human rights. >> reporter: crowds were friendly, calling out to her, including one man who asked her about libya. >> you must help libya. >> we are trying. >> reporter: despite the advance of gadhafi's forces, clinton still rejects the rebels' appeal for u.s. military aid. >> unilateral action would not be the best approach. it would have all kinds of unintended consequences. >> your husband, the former president, last week said we've got the planes, we should do it. >> well, we do think that among the actions that have to be considered by the united nations, the no-fly zone is one of them, but it's not the only one. >> reporter: further complicating u.s. policy here, saudi arabia's attacks against protesters in bahrain. clinton called that alarming. >> our message is consistent and
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strong. there is no way to resolve the concerns of the bahraini people through the use of excessive force or security crackdowns. >> reporter: despite clinton's attempts to help transform revolutions into democracies, as uprisings spread throughout the region, it's clear the u.s. doesn't have the cloud it once had, even with allies like saudi arabia. andrea mitchell, nbc news, cairo. up next here tonight, we go back to japan and a harrowing journey to get out of the radiation zone.
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and the life you want to live. one of the more extraordinary scenes we've come across, look at the highlighted area, as new amateur video comes in from that tsunami six days ago in a nation where small cameras are ubiquitous, civilians trying literally to outrun the incoming floodwaters estimated at one point to travel in some places at 45 miles an hour. remember first there was the quake, then the tsunami, then this nuclear disaster. and the evacuations due to radiation. citizens been told to clear the area, that means everybody, including journalists trying to cover this story for the rest of the world. we have that part of the story
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tonight from nbc's lee cowan, who traveled by car today from yamagata to tokyo on roads skirting the heart of that radiation zone. >> reporter: as the snow began to fall, we began to drive that would bring us within miles of the damaged reactors. by necessary it's where the road goes. the radio is our constant companion. the news is rarely good, but the advice is. we're just outside the affected area now. we've been told to stop and as a precaution, we're supposed to turn off the vents, turn off the air conditioning as well. make sure the windows are rolled up and we're not going to get out of the car until we're well past the affected area. the cold temperatures, though, make it tough. it's still snowing outside so since we can't have any vents on, we've got to keep the windows clear of fogging up. especially for our driver. on the other side of the road
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rolls one reminder after another that japan is a nation with twin disasters. convoys of rescue vehicles race in the opposite direction, into the tsunami zone, unable to stay behind to help those trapped too close to the reactors. it's impossible to get in there, this red cross worker laments, it's just not an option. and as we get closer ourselves, the road gets emptier and emptier. there are the signs for fukushima. it looks like on our map we're about 70 kilometers away from the site itself right now and we're the only car on the road. it remains that way until we hit the outskirts of tokyo, where upon arrival, we're checked for radiation. our shoes test positive for a tiny amount. so we're told to scrub them down with soap and water. for those living here, this is the new reality, at least for the moment, everything has changed. lee cowan, nbc news, tokyo.
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>> and that's life in japan these days. on our website tonight, answers to frequently asked questions about this disaster and, of course, resources for those americans looking to help. it's all at for us that's our broadcast for this wednesday night. thank you for being here with us. i'm brian williams. as always, we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. . conflicting views on the unfolding crisis in japan and how the u.s. government is taking a different stance. what that mean for american citizens. still shaking. tracking the aftershocks in japan. we do, however, have some good news tonight. plus in the face of tragedy, one bay area middle schooler lends a hand. how his trip to japan gives a lesson on giving.


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